Ask Umbra: How do I fight my city’s terrible litter problem?
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Q. My city is littered with litter! It is all over the place. I try to pick up litter whenever I am outside, but I am only one person. What other methods can I employ to clean up my city?
A. Dearest Blakely,
Of all the environmental issues out there, you’d think litter would be the one we could all agree to fix. After all, when’s the last time you heard someone argue in favor of greasy potato chip bags in the park or cigarette butts in the harbor? But despite the near-universal distaste for litter, there’s still trash flying around town. Go figure.
I’m glad to hear you’re concerned. As you may already know, the litter problem does more than make a neighborhood look, well, trashy. Free-range garbage also makes its way into storm drains, and from there, local waterways, where it can end up in the stomachs of turtles and seabirds. It may attract pets and wildlife, which in turn invites the spread of germs. Litter diverts recyclable items from the recycling plant. And in case those reasons don’t move you — personally, you had me at turtles in distress — littering costs businesses and governments billions in cleanup. That’s a high price to pay for the “convenience” of tossing a banana peel out the car window.
Your solo anti-littering crusade is no doubt a positive step, Blakely, but you can multiply your impact with a little help from your friends. One person picking up litter can haul a few bags away, sure, but one person inspiring others to pick up litter is what really gets things done. My best piece of advice? Start recruiting others to your cause.
This can be as simple as getting a few friends together, handing out bags, and spending a few hours in the sunshine scooping up trash. You might want to add protective gloves, too, just in case. Earth Day is tomorrow — why not celebrate with a spur-of-the-moment cleanup party?
If you’re truly moved by this cause, I encourage you to take it a step further and get organized. Community cleanup events that put dozens of locals on the job will have a much bigger impact (and tend to lend a rather festive air to the proceedings to boot). The nonprofit Keep America Beautiful sets up Great American Cleanup events each year, where you can meet like-minded neighbors while hoovering up garbage in your parks, roadways, and community spaces. Connect with your local chapter here.
And if you don’t find a ready-made anti-litter event nearby, well, why not start your own? Keep America Beautiful supplies a bunch of helpful tips for would-be litter moguls, from setting up an organizing committee to choosing a date (hint: springtime is great) to getting the word out around town. One of the best ways to add manpower and publicity to a project like this is hooking up with other local organizations: Think schools, churches, nonprofits, service clubs, Scouts, 4-H clubs, college environmental organizations — any group with a track record of community service is a good bet. While you’re at it, talk to your local businesses about donating snacks, tools, or even T-shirts to your volunteers.
Before I get too carried away, let me mention one more step: Have your big cleanup be the kickoff for regular anti-trash events! You and your friends, plus any other groups you recruit, can “adopt” particularly litter-challenged spots and make it your mission to keep them wrapper-free. Not only will you be picking up garbage every month or so, you’ll also be instilling a sense of pride and ownership in your community, which is kind of like mosquito repellent for litterbugs.
Don’t forget about the power of social media while you’re planning your event, Blakely, whether it’s a simple get-together with friends or a community-wide shindig. Facebook and Twitter can be great ways to spread the word about what you’re up to, and check out what this enterprising man is doing with Instagram. The more people know, the more they’ll be inspired to join your crusade — and the better off your town (and your town’s turtles) will be.